Records of Forster and Andrews, organ builders



Admin History:

In 1843 James Alderson Forster (1818-1886) and Joseph King Andrews (1820-1896) set-up business in Hull as organ builders, having met whilst serving their apprenticeships with J. C. Bishop organ builder in London. They found premises in the old Mechanics Institute on Charlotte Street (now George Street) and began by cleaning and repairing existing organs.

On 10th December 1844 (see L DBFA/1/1) they started work on their first organ, a 'flageolet' though the surviving records do not identify who this was built for. Shortly after this they began to advertise in the local newspapers (see L DBFA/4/3). They secured the commission to build a new organ for Holy Trinity Church in Hull and business grew steadily. In 1847 they undertook alterations on the organ at Beverly Minster and by 1850 were working on the Great Organ at York Minster.

They exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and in 1853 at a meeting of the British Association for Advancement of Science in Hull and James Forster gave a talk on 'The Improvements in Organ Machinery'. By the late 1850s it is estimated that the company was employing nearly 30 people. At the International Exhibition in 1862 they exhibited a large three-manual organ which attracted considerable crowds. The press cuttings (see L DBFA/4/3) include numerous descriptions of the exhibition and include letters of complaint that Forster and Andrews had not been awarded the medal they rightly deserved.

The publicity was good news for the business and by the late 1860s and early 1870s they were building more than 30 new organs each year. The market was not restricted to the UK, the organ lists (see L DBFA/4/2) demonstrate the global market with organs installed in Africa, Central America and Australia. As with its UK customers each organ was built in Hull and tested before being carefully dismantled, shipped and re-built.

In 1877 Forster and Andrews were asked to rebuild the organ at Temple Church, London, which they had both worked on as apprentices in the early 1840s. The completion of this high profile instrument in November 1878 enhanced their reputation yet further. By the early 1880s James Forster Jnr (1847-1925) began taking a more leading role in the business, having worked in each department of the company, as his father settled in London. In 1886, following the death of his father, James Forster Jnr took over the direction of the firm alongside Joseph Andrews.

The factory at Charlotte Street which had always attracted visitors quickly reached its capacity. The firm expanded into second premises on Dock Street and two timber yards on Lime Street where the timber was seasoned before it was used.

Joseph Andrews died in 1896 leaving the firm to be run by James Forster Jnr and his two sons Cyril and Ernest who had also worked with the business for years. The following year saw the appointment of Philip H. Selfe as manager though he soon became a full partner and then in 1904 sole owner when James Forster Jnr retired.

In the early 1900s the firm was receiving considerable business from overseas, though important commissions in Hull at this time included Queen's Hall, alterations to Holy Trinity in 1907, King's Hall and City Hall in 1908. This last commission attracted so much controversy that a public enquiry was held regarding the suitability of the proposed organ for the City Hall (though nothing in the surviving records relates to this). The enquiry eventually found in-favour of the proposed organ and it was installed in March 1911.

Although a few organs were installed during the First World War the majority of work was given to cleaning and restoration as demand for new organs fell heavily. In 1924 the business was purchased by John Christie and Philip Selfe joined Hill, Norman and Beard until he retired in 1938. The decline saw the vacation of the Dock Street premises in 1925 as they moved to smaller workshops on St. Luke Street. Work continued to decline and in 1941 the St. Luke Street workshop was destroyed, along with the loss of many of the firms historical records. After the war only two staff remained, Matthew Cooper and Mr. A. Ernst, who continued to clean and repair instruments until 1956 when they retired and the business closed.

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